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Saudi-backed broadcaster hires ex-Hulu exec for streaming push

Saudi-backed broadcaster MBC Group is looking to take on Netflix in the Middle East as it ramps up streaming plans.

The Dubai-based broadcaster, which is controlled by the Saudi government, has appointed former Hulu exec Johannes Larcher to expand the MBC digital platform Shahid.

The broadcaster, which is the largest free-to-air Arab broadcaster and operates 18 TV channels as well as AVOD service Shahid and SVOD service Shahid Plus, is expanding the platforms and launching an Originals banner, which will be overseen by Larcher.

The exec served as SVP of international for Hulu between 2009 and 2013, before going on to roles at Lionsgate and VR firm SubVRsive.

MBC reaches around 140m viewers daily across the Middle East, where it is available in 23 countries.

The business previously operated at arm’s length from the Saudi government with more liberal programming, but the structure shifted when MBC chairman Waleed al-Ibrahim was caught up in the Saudi Crown Prince’s alleged anti-corruption crackdown in November 2017. He was ultimately freed in late January 2018, though the broadcaster then came under Saudi government control, with al-Ibrahim retaining a 40% stake in MBC and remaining shares transferred to a subsidiary of the finance ministry, according to the Financial Times.

MBC recently launched in-house production arm MBC Studios to work on new local programming for the platform, which will include films and shows. Third-party international content will also figure on the service.

News of the planned streamer comes just a week after Netflix pulled an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act series tackling the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the platform’s service in Saudi Arabia after a complaint from the kingdom’s Communications and Information Technology Commission.

Larcher’s appointment was first reported by Variety.